This Article is submitted by –
- Uma Sriram
Drugs have of late been a part of the Bollywood lifestyle. Till 1984, ‘weed’ that is cannabis, was legal. Now a ‘crack’ team is ‘weeding’ out present users. B-Town, now, is no less than a drug syndicate with drug kingpins, peddlers, suppliers, dealers, and clients. Bollywood has become so corrupt and dirty with evils such as drugs, nepotism, casting couch, patriarchy, the misogyny that it’s unsafe for the next generation to work in this industry. Most people in the Hindi film industry are or seem to be drug addicts. Drugs happen here like everywhere and Sushant’s case gets exposure by the NCB that is trying to prove everybody in Bollywood is into them.
Narcotics Control Bureau was meant for bigger activities than sending celebrities, their associates, or petty offenders, to jail with no recovery. It was formed mainly to counter trans-border drug operations involving large consignments. Herewith its federal cousins the CBI and the enforcement directorate, struggling to pin fraud, murder, and drug charges on a ‘want to be starlet’ in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, and being told that Bollywood was mafia of drugs and vice and immediate investigation is needed. If these federal law enforcement and investigation agencies had put in their combined effort, time, and resources to go, say, after the “D” factor, they might have had him by now! The criminals take advantage of Bwood celebs nexus with law-enforcing authorities to do flourishing business in drug trafficking. For the organized criminals, who work for a particular gang and period, no time limit is set in drug trafficking.
Our Law, the NDPS Act, without any ambiguity is very clear on the definition of drugs, criminality involved, and punishment. It has stringent provisions to control and regulate operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The Act is distinct and explicit in prohibiting the cultivation, production, possession, sale purchase, trade, import, export, use, and consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The Act in its definition includes cannabis and using its plant resin (charas) and its concentrated variant hashish or the dried flowering or fruiting tops, called ganja, or any mixture of ganja or charas.
In the Act, several sections and sub-sections deal with Offences and Penalties. These include an attempt to commit offenses, illicit cultivation and production, contravention of various sections and sub-clauses of the Act, illicit financing, hoarding offenders, and punishment for consumption of any narcotic drugs or psychotropic substance. Sections 25 to 28 are very clear about the type of offenses committed and the punishment involved for such offenses.
From the cultivation of any cannabis plant; or produces, manufactures, possesses, sells, purchases, transports, imports inter-State, exports inter-State or uses cannabis, the punishment is up to 10 years rigorous imprisonment with from Rs 2 lakhs to Rs 10 lakhs fine. Section 27 defines
punishment for consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance “with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to twenty thousand rupees; or with both; and (b) where the narcotic drug or psychotropic substance consumed is other than those specified in or under clause (a), with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees, or with both.” This punishment is not enough to deter people who abuse drugs. The lawmakers may consider a still severe punishment to prevent people even to go near such drugs.
In Sections 36 and subsequent clauses, the Act deals with trials and the type of offenses. While all drug abuse types are cognizable, these should be made non-bailable. There are several instances where the offenders get bail and roam around without even repenting for having committed such an offense which is no doubt equivalent to any heinous crime. The drug peddlers, the abusers, drug traffickers, and conduits all are taking advantage of the bail and come out and restart the illicit trade. Any offense under this Act shall be made non-bailable to prevent and/or to reduce repeated offenses.
The Law on prevention of illicit traffic in narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances provides for detention of such offending persons. India has laws scattered in various facets of organized crime. The existing laws, however, drastically fall short of the requirements to curb the menace. In 2001, the act was amended via the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Act, 2001, to rationalize the sentencing structure. Under the new structure, the punishment would vary depending on whether the quantity of offending material involved was ‘small quantity’, ‘commercial quantity’ or something in-between, thereby mending strict punishment for offenses related to ‘commercial quantity’ and milder punishment for offenses related to ‘small quantity’. On October 19, 2001, the central government issued a notification which specified the ‘small quantity’ and ‘commercial quantity’ of the recognized narcotic drugs and substances.
To elaborate few provisions and how it can be taken advantage of by moneyed ones, incidentally, the law now states that anyone who contravenes the NDPS Act will face punishment based on the quantity of the banned substance. Where the contravention involves a quantity less than one kilogram, the punishment is rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with a fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 or with both. So even if the stars are found guilty, they may well be let off with a fine of Rs 10,000, perhaps less than what they spend for the contraband.
Back in the day “dum maaro dum” meant a trip on charas or ganja at a house party without fear of a witch hunt by the narcotics control bureau. The film popularized the hippie drugs and sex culture that till then was only confined to Goa.
Charas and ganja have been around forever. Like alcohol at a house party. Those parties were celebrations. With singing, dancing, playing party games and they wound up with the host scuttling everybody out after dinner. Not like today’s rave. Where Display electronic music all night in dark rooms fitted with laser lights, strobes, and fog machines. And where coke is not cola, ecstasy not a euphoric state of mind, and a bust is not a woman’s chest.
When cocaine made the scene, and how is it different from opium? Or opium from marijuana and cannabis? What are Hashish, brown sugar, acid, and heroin? Are MD and LSD like? Or these are different names for the same thing. Also, what drugs do you smoke, what do you snort, what do you lick, what do you inject into a vein and what do you take orally? Are they party drugs? When does an occasional user become an addict? How much is too much?
My knowledge of drugs is hazy. Yet I know there is no such thing as a happiness pill. Only hippies are forgiven for taking drugs to seek spiritual enlightenment, the truth, and fulfillment. For the rest of us, it’s a punishable offense.
Over the years, NCB was aware of the drug peddlers and their business, when drug sales went beyond and had to end for a better life in Mumbai.
Interpol has sought to define organized crime as: “Any enterprise or group of persons engaged in continuing illegal activity which has as its primary purpose the generation of profits irrespective of national boundaries.”
The core organized crime activity is the supply of illegal goods and services to countless numbers of citizen customers. In India in addition to its traditional spheres of activities which included extortion, seeking protection money, contract killing, boot legging, gambling, prostitution, and smuggling, now added is drug trafficking, activities based essentially on its readiness to use brute force and violence.
The money and power are used to infiltrate legitimate business and several other related activities. The experience has shown that it attempts to subvert and corrupt our democratic processes. Involvement of Bombay based criminal syndicates in the serial bomb blast in 1993, and the contract killings of several important social and political leaders in Bombay, indicate that organized crime in this part of the country is emerging as a serious challenge to the state. The destabilizing effect that organized crime has on the country’s economy, trade, and commerce can hardly be overemphasized. Organized crime continues to grow at a disconcerting speed as the existing laws and procedures are not powerful enough to help the law enforcement agencies to collect adequate evidence to bring criminal charges and try other remedies against organized crime syndicates as a whole and thereby incapacitate them from carrying out their nefarious activities. Since the real strength of organized crime lies in its money power with which it buys political power, it is imperative to destroy its money power base.
In India, there is no comprehensive law to control organized crime in all its dimensions and manifestations. There is substantive law regarding criminal conspiracy. There are also penal provisions in various statutes against specific violations of those statutes.
Section 120A of the Indian Penal Code defines, criminal conspiracies:
An illegal act, or
An act which is not illegal by illegal means. Such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy, provided that no agreement except an agreement to commit an offense shall amount to criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance thereof.
Organized Crime Gangs and Drug Mafias
India’s organized crimes are predominantly from Bombay being the financial capital of India, which is the playground of several criminal gangs and their continuing warfare for dominance. Several gangsters grew rich and powerful with political clout. One such person is Varada Rajan Mudaliar, a porter at VT station, took to thievery at the Bombay docks and to boot legging in the 1960s. He amassed wealth illegally and compromised the law enforcement system. With money power, he became socially influential. Haji Mastan another notorious smuggler started as a small-time criminal later to smuggling gold and silver. The graph went up and the 1970s saw the gang war among different groups in Bombay. Even today it continues, of course with some political patron. Among them, the Dawood gang is the most powerful one having a countrywide network and with linkages abroad. His involvement in transnational crimes on narcotic drugs, smuggling, a contract killing is known to all. He is an expert in narcotic drug trafficking and extortion and with the money, he finances the film industry.
Arun Gawli, another notorious criminal became a gang leader after the death of Rama Naik a gangster. Gawli was caught and punished and put behind bars in 1990. Iron bars did not deter him. He operated his empire from jail premises. He continued Amar Naik’s criminal activity of hafta collection. Violent gang war erupted several times between his group and other groups within the jail premises as well outside. Chota Rajan, a splinter group from Dawood started his organized gang essentially for drug trafficking and contract killing. It was reported later that he joined Arun Gawli.
India has a draconian anti-drug law (though this was amended later in 2001), the narcotics drugs and psychotropic substance act 1985, which provides minimum punishment of 10 years for offenses under this act. Investigative skills need to be honed and trials are to be expedited. Inter-agency exchange of information amongst the countries by the quickest possible means, coupled with expeditious extradition proceedings, would prove helpful in curbing the drug menace.
Judiciary guidelines through judgments
Our judiciary system quite often comes out with accurate guidelines while handing down judgments on various cases of drug trafficking.
It is the quantity not purity of narcotic drugs that will decide punishment: SC
The Supreme Court ruled that punishment for possessing banned drugs under the narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances act would depend on the quantity of banned substance seized from the person and not on the purity of the illicit drug. By this ruling, a three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, and M R shah reversed SC’s 2008 judgment in E Michael Raj case, in which the court has ruled that since adulterated drugs contained several neutral substances which are not psychotropic, it would be wrong to punish a person based on the weight of the seized drug. It had ruled that the punishment for possessing drugs, whether small or commercial quantity, would be based on determining the weight of a pure banned substance and not by the entire weight of the seized drug.
In a landmark ruling that spread some cheers around defense lawyers, the Supreme Court held that a “confessional statement” made before an investigating officer of an agency other than the police force is barred from being used as Evidence to convict an accused under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. This has now increased the burden of proof on Investigation agencies in such cases as mere confession cannot be admissible as Evidence. The SC essentially observed that if confessional statements made before an officer were to be treated as evidence, then it would be a direct infringement of Constitutional guarantees given in Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 20(3)(Right not to self-incriminate) and Article 21(Right to life and liberty) of the Constitution.
However, the Supreme Court while reversing its judgment of 2008 earlier in 2020 stated that traces of an offending drug is sufficient to declare the entire quantity. The punishment is rigorous imprisonment for no less than 10 years while it can be extended to 20 years. The offender is also liable to fine of no less than Rs 1 lakh. This may be extended to Rs 2 lakh.
The term ‘reasonable grounds’ appears very ambiguous and contains discretionary characteristics. The Supreme Court explained the term reasonable ground in the case of Narcotics Control Bureau v. Dilip Prahlad Namade (2004) to mean ‘something more than just the prima facie grounds’.
Bollywood and Underworld connections are very old. From the 1990s the underworld and Bollywood connection became stronger because of the world of glamour, conversion of black money to white money, and from that arose much larger trafficking and usage of drugs. In the 90s a film producer Bharath Shah was caught talking to an underworld don. This subsequently led to his arrest and imprisonment. From 2000 the pattern changed with the arrival of new actors into Bollywood. Drugs became part of the Lifestyle and a way to show-off money and a form of time pass. Many struggling actors were also looking at this as a refuge from the frustrations of not being able to make it big. This heady cocktail of money and power also included rogue elements of the police and unscrupulous politicians. It is this vicious cycle and strong political patronage which supports and sustains the presence of drugs in Bollywood. Often police are reduced to merely calling in glamorous celebrities as suspects, questioning them, and then letting them go as they have strong political backing. Why is there a vacuum and big loopholes in the law which lets them get away with it?
“The views of the authors are personal“